Aspen Times Weekly: Hit & Run with John Colson
Assuming you were born in 1958 or earlier, you should be able to answer the following question:
Where were you the moment you heard that President John F. Kennedy had been shot while being driven in a motorcade around Dallas, Texas?
It’s a question that a lot of people have been asking themselves this week and for some time before this week, as we sneak up on the 50th anniversary of that nation-shattering moment, which came at 12:30 p.m. (Central Standard Time) on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963.
If you were born after 1958, of course, you would have been 4 years old or younger and wouldn’t have cared much where you were, as long as mummy was nearby and dinner was soon to be on the table.
Myself, I was 12, entering that dangerous period of human existence known as puberty, so I might correctly be accused of not knowing exactly where I was at any given point in time, day or night, that year or the ensuing three or four years.
But, pubescent hallucinations aside, I do recall exactly where I was on that day.
I was in school, in a particular classroom on the left side of the second-floor hallway of the newest section of a historic school building, Franklin Elementary School in Madison, Wis.
I can remember the desk I sat in, one place back from the front, two rows from the window.
I was in seventh-grade French class, taught by Mrs. Doré, on whom I had a massive crush my last year at Franklin.
What I clearly recall from the day of the shooting is a lot of weeping and stunned faces out in the hallway. Lunch break was over, and Mrs. Doré had just walked out of the room with a concerned look on her face. The class held its collective breath, knowing something big was up.
She came back in a few minutes later, drying her eyes and obviously freaked out (OK, I wouldn’t learn that phrase until a little later in life, but that’s how she looked). She told us that the President had been shot, that school had been canceled and that school buses would be arriving soon to carry us home.
I remember feeling confused as I vacillated between glee at getting a free afternoon just before the weekend, and a sense that this was something too serious for us to treat lightly.
I remember that some in the class managed to get out a quick cheer at being released, more of a squeak, really, before being grimly shushed into silence.
I don’t remember the bus ride home.
I don’t remember whether our gorgeous 15-year-old babysitter, Donna Wind, was there to greet us, or whether our parents had come home early from work in keeping with the national sense of shock.
I do remember watching television for much of that afternoon, as they declared the President dead and the shockwaves from the event grew deeper and stronger all across the U.S.
I remember watching on TV two days later as the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was shot to death himself by the now notorious hood and nightclub owner Jack Ruby, in the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters.
And I remember as I grew older that I couldn’t quite believe the conclusions of the Warren Report, that Oswald and Ruby both acted entirely, crazily alone.
Which means I remain one of the 61 percent of the American people who still think something else went on that fateful day, despite our government’s elaborate and determined efforts to convince us otherwise.
I believe we, as a nation, ignored the fact that a coup d’etat had taken place, and that we would never know the names of those behind this act. I believe there are too many unanswered questions, deliberately left unasked by a government that wanted this episode to fade away in our collective memories so that business as usual could go on.
At this point a lot of us, the unbelievers in the official Kennedy assassination mythology, have died off. But still, more than half of this country is convinced we were lied to about who shot JFK and why. And we have a nagging suspicion that the truth, if it gets out, will mean trouble of a kind we’ve never known before.
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Last Thursday, locals marked the Thanksgiving holiday with various traditions such as running in a socially distanced race to cutting down a Christmas tree in the forest to small dinners at home with family.